Business, Marketing

Can you impress me in less than one second?

I’ve always chosen the path less traveled.

In high school, while most of my classmates chose to study one of the more popular languages, like Spanish or French, I chose the lesser popular “German studies.” Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Around 95% of my graduating class chose to attend the University of Missouri, otherwise known as “Mizzou”. I chose Missouri State University. It wasn’t because I couldn’t get accepted into Mizzou, but because I wanted to do what everyone else wasn’t. Not to mention the fact that MSU just so happens to have the largest and most highly accredited Business Administration program in the state. (Take that, Tigers!)

Following graduation, most everyone I knew moved back to St. Louis to start careers in the city they knew since birth. My husband and I decided to pack up and start careers in Kansas City – a place I had never even been before.

As I approach my XX birthday (a lady never tells her age), I see that most of these same people have long started their own families. But instead of swan diving into parenthood this year, my husband and I decided to take a bucket list trip to the Maldives. It was incredible. See?


I was recently reminded of this habit of going “against the grain” during a conversation with a prominent senior VP of marketing communications. She mentioned that one of her best marketing strategies is to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. This strategy has worked quite well for her over the years.

I’d say this same strategy has worked pretty well for me, too – which got me thinking.

What’s something that everyone is doing right now?

Digital marketing.

What’s something hardly no one is doing right now?

Direct mail.

Well, I’ll take that back. There are still quite a few companies out there with a direct mail strategy; however, according to the Winter 2015 issue of “Chief Marketer”, direct mail volume is down overall.

Let’s rephrase the question then, shall we?

What’s something hardly no is doing effectively right now?

Direct mail.

Direct mail today is bad. Really bad. Maybe my mailbox is just unfortunate in that it attracts poorly executed pieces, like the pretty girl in high school that for whatever reason couldn’t land a decent boyfriend.

I still get excited to check the mail. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I can’t be the only one. Remember the days when people sent handwritten letters? How unfortunate to think that those born after the year 2000 probably don’t even have that recollection. It’s still a treat when I find a handwritten note or personalized card in my mailbox, although such occasions are usually reserved for holidays or following the attendance of a wedding. More typical is that I open my mailbox to disappointments similar to this:


According to Michael Fortin of The Licorice Group, it takes a person less than one second to decide whether or not to throw away a direct mail piece.

Capturing attention through direct mail is by no means an easy task, and perhaps is the reason why so many fail. But, the challenge can be worth the strife. Consider that physical marketing materials such as direct mail better engage your audience and trigger more emotional responses than digital marketing, according to a study conducted by Millward Brown, Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail. The result? Deeper brand engagement.

This isn’t true for just any old mailer though. You have to get noticed.

It’s not enough to just be where others aren’t. Once you’re there, you have to do it better.

When is the last time a direct mail piece stopped you in your tracks? Better yet…when was the last time you were so impressed by a mailer that you actually wanted to save it, to show it off, like Phil? Phil from Paragon Design was absolutely wooed by this promotional piece from Veer – find out why here.


This gives me hope. It tells me there are well-done direct mail pieces out there – somewhere. So, I’m going to hold a little contest. You could win one million dollars.

Not really. But there is a prize. Read on.

The request:

Send me a picture of the most impressive direct mail piece you’ve ever received. Tell me about what makes the piece so effective.

Judging rules:

Your submission must capture my attention in less than one second. (Yes – we’re going to be true to life here.)

Where most see this as a challenge, I see an opportunity. Perhaps it’s that “against the grain” mindset kicking in once again.

The top three submissions will be featured in an upcoming post.

To inspire your journey, I’ll leave you with this excerpt from Robert Frost’s classic poem, “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood,

and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Advertising, Marketing

Light up your engagement strategy with sincerity

Another marketer talking about engagement?

::Audience slowly files out of room::

WAIT! Don’t leave just yet.

Yes, I know. “Engagement”, in some ways, has surpassed its 15 minutes of fame. There’s a reason why we keep talking about it though – it works. But only when executed correctly. And that’s where so many companies continue to struggle. Continue to unknowingly struggle. Are you one of the many who is struggling in ignorance?

Potential light bulb moment ahead.

To develop a truly successful online engagement strategy, more companies need to think of engagement in terms of stages. True engagement continually cycles through the following three stages, to create a “circuit” of sorts:


In my observation, too many companies believe that by achieving Stage 1, they’ve successfully “engaged” their audience. Well, yes, and no. Without reciprocity – Stage 3 – you’re essentially just leaving your audience hanging, and the circuit is incomplete.

But there’s another layer to consider, and without it, even a full circuit engagement strategy will fall miserably short.


If you’re not engaging like you mean it, don’t even bother with Stage 1. You’ll never move beyond it. Think of sincerity as the conductor to your engagement circuit, facilitating the electrical flow.

Sincerity is one of those terms that is often used, but hard to define. My personal definition of sincerity is simple: Honesty of heart and mind.

For decades, psychologists have strived to pinpoint exactly what factors help us determine the true sincerity of another person. Tonality? Non-verbal indicators? Eye contact?

The answer appears to point to something more visceral in nature. Sincerity, as described by Husni Adnan:

“Sincerity is like a black ant on a black rock in the darkest night. It exists, but is very difficult to see.”

What determines sincerity is a “feeling”, and as a human race we’re all fairly good at sniffing out insincerity based on gut alone. It’s like your very own little red “I Call Bullshit!” button.

So then, how do you prevent your audience from pressing that little red button on your online engagement strategy? Express sincerity by being authentic, emotional and transparent.


Stay true to who you are. When you engage your audience in ways that don’t ultimately tie back to your brand’s reason for being, you’ll eventually muddy your identity and lose your audience. A beauty product company that “engages” by asking, “How’s the weather where you are today?” will likely garner responses, but long term, how is this type of engagement of value to their audience?

Finally, it may go without saying, but we can all benefit from this friendly reminder – be cognizant of word choice and tonality. Ensure every tweet, status update and post is reflective of the overarching voice of your brand. For example, if Taco Bell’s tweets suddenly started referencing Shakespeare (in a non-sarcastic, serious way), you better believe I’d be reaching for my little red button.


When someone is being sincere, you can feel the emotional undercurrent. When strong emotions are evoked, it compels action, propelling you from Stage 1 to Stages 2 and 3. Take for example TD Bank’s “Automatic Thanking Machine” campaign. If you haven’t seen the heartfelt video yet, grab some tissues and view it here.

After watching the video, I was moved to tears by TD Bank’s sincere acts of kindness toward their customers. I was so moved that I was compelled to express these feelings to TD Bank. I sent them a tweet, to which they soon responded in a personal and light-hearted way:


I now follow TD Bank on Twitter. And, just like that, TD Bank moved me through all three engagement stages, fueled entirely by the emotional component of sincerity.


Allow your audience to see through your brand – the good AND the bad. Remember how being transparent completely revitalized the Domino’s brand? The “Oh Yes We Did” campaign was absolutely revolutionary in that never before had we seen a company so publically address their shortcomings. Transparency is synonymous with honesty, which is at the heart of sincerity. Let your audience in, and they won’t want to leave.

Is your company engaging beyond Stage 1? Stage 2? Or, are you dealing with a broken circuit? Conduct with sincerity, and watch your audience truly light up.

Photo Credit: Wired UK


Cassie D’Arpino is a freelance Marketing Communications & Strategy Specialist, helping brands better connect to their audiences in meaningful, emotional and effective new ways. Her experience prior to working as a freelancer includes six years in strategic planning and senior account service at a shopper marketing agency in Kansas City, Missouri. Cassie received her MBA from Missouri State University, and currently resides in Springfield, Missouri with her husband, Steve, Pekingese puppy named Bella, and two Persian cats, Garfield and Cubby. She is a lover of Sriracha, a neuromarketing nerd, and obviously, a fan of animals with short snouts.

For more marketing musings and random reverie, follow Cassie on Twitter: @Cassie_DArpino